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County middle schools returning to ‘true’ concept
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Majen Collins (left) and Karli Foster stand with Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School Principal Wendy Durham. Henry County recently made changes to its middle schools to return them to “true middle schools” instead of junior high schools. “An effective middle school program is designed around the unique development needs of early adolescents,” according to Sandy Strayer, the county’s director of K-12 instruction. (Bulletin photo)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

From Bulletin staff reports

Changes at Henry County’s middle schools are earning high marks from some students and teachers.

Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton said that with standardized testing and other requirements the past several years, the division’s two middle schools had become more like junior highs than true middle schools. So this school year, Fieldale-Collinsville and Laurel Park middle schools, which house grades 6 through 8, have moved back to the true middle school concept.

Seventh-grader Majen Collins and eighth-grader Karli Foster said they like changes at Fieldale-Collinsville.

Brandon Johnson, a sixth-grade science teacher at Laurel Park, said similar changes at that school are “a great idea that is going to help students.”

“The middle school is a bridge between elementary school and high school,” according to an email from Sandy Strayer, the school division’s director of K-12 instruction. “It is not an exaggerated elementary school nor a miniature high school, but a blend of the two. An effective middle school program is designed around the unique developmental needs of early adolescents (11-14-year-olds). The intellectual, social, physical and emotional needs of this age group are different from either elementary or high school students; therefore, a customized educational program is necessary.”

“Middle schools are based on the team concept,” the email stated.

Strayer said that in recent years, Laurel Park and Fieldale-Collinsville had done team teaching less consistently, and for the most part, students were not with the same teams of teachers for the whole day, excluding electives (which are called exploratory courses).

But this year at Laurel Park and Fieldale-Collinsville, instruction in core subject areas of science, language arts, social studies and math consistently is based on team teaching, Strayer said.

A team is a set of teachers who have the same group of 100-120 students every day for the entire day, excluding electives, she said.

Teams consist of two to four teachers, and teachers integrate the instruction, finding connections between the subjects, according to Strayer and Cotton. Team teachers’ rooms are near one another, Strayer said.

Each team of teachers meets at least once a week to do such things as plan how to integrate their subjects, to review student data, to discuss student needs and to meet with parents, according to Cotton and Strayer.

In addition, teachers meet with other teachers in their subject areas once a week, Cotton and Strayer said.

A 30-minute e-period (e stands for enrichment) is part of the school day for the sixth- and seventh-graders, Strayer said. This time can be used for a variety of activities, including career and college planning; Readistep/SAT prep-College Board resources; character lessons such as anti-bullying, anti-drug, leadership, etc.; learning through gaming; and other gifted, enrichment or remediation lessons or activities.

Cotton and Strayer said seventh-graders will tour Patrick Henry Community College this year, and the school division is looking at taking students to visit businesses — all to help get them thinking about college and career. Any businesses interested should call Strayer at 634-4721, she said.

Cotton said he feels when teachers work with the same group of students all day (except for electives), they will get to know the students better and will be able to help them better in their emotional and social development. Academically, they will be able to better help meet students’ needs if they are struggling in particular areas or help push students further if they are exceeding expectations, he said.

He added that academic expectations will remain high, and assessments will be used to make sure students are progressing properly.

Karli said from her perspective, there’s a lot more team teaching at Fieldale-Collinsville this school year than last year. She is on the Diamonds team.

Having her team teachers’ classrooms close together saves her time when classes change, and it is more convenient if she needs to stop and ask a teacher something, rather than have to go to another part of the school to find the teacher, she said.

Karli and Majen said they like when an academic concept is carried from one core class to another. For example, Karli described studying the history surrounding Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech for its 50th anniversary and writing an English assignment related to that. She added that she is sociable and likes learning with groups.

Majen, who is on the Sea Turtles team, and Karli mentioned several other benefits of the changes, including: more consistency in class rules and regulations; more teacher monitoring of students and less congestion in hallways between class changes; and in the e-period, opportunities to make up missed work, get one-on-one help, do enrichment activities, learn and explore in more detail some of the topics covered in core classes, and do career and college exploration through a computer program.

Majen, the daughter of Janie and Timothy Collins, also said she likes how the program takes a student’s personality into account in offering career and college options. She said she has known since she was 4 that she wants to become a government veterinarian, which will take eight years of college.

In general, she said of the changes, “I think you learn more and feel safer.”

“I think it helps us a lot,” said Karli, the daughter of Marce and Robert Foster.

Fieldale-Collinsville Principal Wendy Durham said teachers’ and students’ reactions to the changes have been positive.

Johnson, the Laurel Park Middle teacher, said students have taken ownership of their teams, having picked team names, mascots and colors, and are engaging in team competitions. He said he also likes that teachers are working together to provide interdisciplinary lessons and that there is more structure.

“Consistency is unbelievable” in such things as goals, rules and instruction, he said.

Principal Ben Gravely said Laurel Park had stuck pretty well to the middle school concept. “We just ratcheted it up a notch or two” this school year, he said.


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